2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Ichinikura Miyagi Umami Mart

As soon as we got our beer and wine license in 2015, we stocked our shelves with Ichinokura's Mukansa, one of the first dry sakes to hit the sake market in Japan - back in the 1970s. It remains an Umami Mart staff favorite to this day. Refreshingly crisp in the summer when chilled, and satisfyingly dry when warmed in the winter. It's a versatile sake that remains consistent in quality and price.

With the debut of our bottle shop, one of the first sake breweries to visit us was Ichinokura. It was Kazu who visited our Oakland store and introduced himself. It was an honor to have a sake brewery from Japan visit a nascent sake shop like us in the East Bay. We were already familiar with his sakes and were very excited to meet him and ask him about his brewery.

Since becoming fast friends with Kazu, we've worked together to kick off several of our Camino Sake Dinners with a big cask filled full of Ichinokura Junmai.

He even helped us launch the release of our first zine, Japanify All Day.

Kayoko, Ko-chan and Kazu at the Japanify All Day release party in February 2017

So when I was planning a trip to go to Hokkaido from Tokyo via shinkansen (bullet train) I grabbed the opportunity to ride through Sendai to visit the brewery. Ichinokura is actually about 45 minutes out from Sendai by local train in Osaki City. The station was tiny, and as soon as we stepped off the train, Kazu-san was waiting for us on the empty platform.

Off we went in his rental car (a white Toyota Yaris, my dream car), and drove down tiny rural roads.

Ichinikura Miyagi Umami Mart

In about 20 minutes, we arrived at to the Matsuyama Sake Museum, where there were some well-maintained sake exhibits.

The entrance to the sake museum featured lots of Ichinokura barrels.

Ichinikura Miyagi Umami Mart

The indoor entryway to the museum was quite dramatic.

Ichinikura Miyagi Umami Mart

Tools for sake-making on display.

Ichinikura Miyagi Umami Mart

We ate at the soba shop on site, that also served Sendai miso onigiri (riceballs).

Ichinikura Miyagi Umami Mart

The onigiri were the real reason why Kazu-san said he took us here (drooling emoji).

Ichinikura Miyagi Umami Mart

They also had ice cream made from Ichinokura sake lees!

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

As we ate, Kazu explained the history behind the brewery. Ichinokura formed in 1973, when big sake brewers were gobbling up the market, smaller brewers were in danger of going out of business. To survive in this cut-throat market, four smaller brewers in Osaki City banded together to create Ichinokura (Ace Brewery). To start on equal footing, the four agreed to build the brewery in a totally new location, instead of using one of their existing breweries.

The main part of the soba shop featured lots of Ichinokura sakes – many that are only released domestically.

Ichinokura Umami Mart

We were back on the road and in about five minutes we reached the brewery.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

The setting was beautiful.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

 

They chose a spot with pristine well-water (duh!!!). That shack is where the source of the water is.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

This is one of the larger sake breweries I've been to and it was interesting to see how they involve themselves in the community. In addition to operating the Matsuyama Sake Museum, they give back to the those who suffered during the 2011 Tohoku Disaster. They also hold Sake University once a year - where they open up the brewery to anyone for a week to help make sake. Kayoko and I hope to study at the university in 2021!

I took this photo to remember the information for Sake University:

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

Entrance to the main building.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

The tasting corner.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

The whole facility was a ghost town. Kazu explained to us that during the hot summer months they work on maintenance, as sake-making season is from fall to spring.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

Spotless fermentation tanks.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

Large storage tanks.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

Kazu let us taste some of the pristine well-water.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

Thank you Kazu for the tour of the brewery - we will be back in the winter, during sake-making season for Sake University!

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

Local tip: Kazu also has the best recommendations for onsen (hot springs)! We went to Naruko Onsen after the brewery visit, which was truly magical.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

Photos do not do Naruko Onsen justice.

Ichinokura Miyagi Umami Mart

We will welcome Kazu on November 8th to our bar. He says he'll bring something special for us sake-lovers in Oakland. Stay tuned to our events page for the latest.